First of all, please excuse this note if it is not my finest writing sample. I promise to jazz it up in a day or two but I did not want to keep you all waiting and we had a little “event” here tonight. The morning after our meeting with Senator Brown we drove Lauren home from her first year of college. We got here about 7-ish and after we unloaded the car she dashed off to see friends. She came in at about 11, tripped over her suitcase and broke her arm. Waiting for the surgeon now, who will be in at 6 a.m. So, here’s a recap but please give me a pass on grammer. Haha I mean grammar. Just testing you. But, for real. Cut me some slack on this one. Thanks. Oh and please read to the end: I do have a tiny call to action for you to take if you don’t mind!
When I say I believe in accepting apologies when they are given I really mean that. Since I’m the type of person who can mess up or fall short or just plain not get something right on any given day, I live in hope that others will want to grant forgiveness of me on a regular basis. And to be honest with you, while I was taken aback by my meeting with Senator Brown a year ago, I really did think that perhaps he just had a bad day or perhaps it was me. And I really did not consider saying much about it until I read about another person having a similar situation.
So it really meant a lot to me when, as we shook hands at the start of our meeting, Senator Brown’s first words were “I am sincerely sorry for how things went the last time we met.” I assured him – right off – that I believed that and that I was here this day, along with my daughter and husband – to move forward. He explained a few details of the meeting that day that had caused him some angst (none had to do with me) and I remembered those things as he told me. It wasn’t his best moment, but there was some crazy stuff going on around him.
So here we were, ready to start again. And I have to say, if it was Senator Brown and his staff’s goal to balance off that short, strange meeting with one that would tip the scales way over to accommodating almost beyond belief, they were successful. As far as graciousness, willingness to listen and giving us time, they blew it out of the water.
We arrived a few minutes early (I’m chronically early. Cannot help it) and were able to chat with the front office staff. Of course since they are native to the Boston area, we all had friends in common (okay . . . they had friends of my kids in common. I’m old.) Then a staff member I had spoken with on the phone came out to say hello. With his Minimed insulin pump strapped to the side of his belt. He and Lauren talked shop, and trust me, he’s real about it. He was diagnosed in his late teens and is just at his 10 year diaversary. When I asked “how’s that going,” he said quite honestly and without whining: “It is what it is. One day at a time.” I got to toss in a “What? You’re not regulated?” joke yet and we all had a hearty dia-chuckle.
Then the door of the meeting room swung open and the young man led us in. There, we sat around a large, very Senatorial looking table with four staff members, our family and Senator Brown. This is quite remarkable. I really mean it when I say on any given day on the hill you’d be lucky to get one staff member for 15 minutes and an elected official for five. We spent close to an hour discussing everything from Lauren’s diagnosis to her life in college with diabetes to her dreams of the future to her fears. I was able to talk about the research and tools landscape and then ask him for some specific support.
First, an easy one: I asked Senator Brown to attend a hearing on Type 1 diabetes that will be held by the Homeland Security Committee on June 22. (He sits on that committee. The reason a diabetes hearing is held by them is a true Senate Leader on the issue, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the minority leader of that committee. He agreed immediately, and said he was looking forward to it. I’ve been at those hearings – my daughter even testified at one in 2005 – so I know he’ll hear a lot there not only from actually people with Type 1, but from researchers and even some federal leaders on the topic. It will be fantastic to have him there. I told him that the diabetes community will take note and appreciate that.
The second was not as easy, but he and his staff said they will be more than willing – when the time comes – to talk about this more and give it real consideration. The Special Diabetes Program has been funding Type 1 research on the NIH campus to the tune of $150 million a year since Senators Newt Gingrich and Erskine Bowles helped created it in 1997. Since it’s on the mandatory side of spending, it’s funding that cannot be touched or taken away once it is in place. It just won a two-year renewal, and will be up again in another year. Lauren and I both talked about the research that has gone on from that funding, and how really, it’s an investment in our nation’s future since one of every three dollars of medicade go to treat diabetes. No, there was no vow to support it but in fairness, it’s not time for that yet. But there was a true agreement to talk it over when the time comes. I think that’s great.
My third ask was a bit more far reaching: I asked Senator Brown to consider becoming a champion for diabetes needs on Capitol Hill, much as Sen. Susan Collins has. I told him Sen. Collin’s interest and commitment came not from a personal connection, but from a meeting much like the one we were having this day. She was so moved by the meeting, she learned more and simply had to do all she could. And she continues to. Senator Brown did not have an answer to that one, but frankly, he should not have yet. Asking someone to do something that remarkable is not something you expect a blind “yes” to. He has many issues and programs to consider. I hope he will decide ours is one he should champion.
Senator Brown has some history with diabetes. He told me that a good friend of his has Type 1, and his other good friend gave him a kidney. It was a powerful experience for his entire circle of friends, he said. And since he is a triathlete, he did the Cohasset Tri last summer, where he was lucky enough to meet Gary Hall. He told me Hall explained to him all he had to do to be able to do a tri, and it amazed the Senator. He also was very familiar with the work New England Patriot Vince Wilfork does for the Diabetes Research Institute. I told him a little more about what DRI is doing and funding. In addition, he recently toured a Minimed plant, and suggested that Lauren do the same soon.
One of his staff members has a mother with Type 1, who is moving on toward medalist age (which is really cool. Plus that gave me a chance to explain the Medalist Program to Senator Brown). She gave Lauren some great words of encouragement about what a great mom her mom has always been, even with diabetes on board. What a nice extra gift that was.
There was small talk too (I got to relive my glory days of ski jumping; Lauren got to talk about how much she loved college in DC). I truly had the feeling that if I needed to talk two hours longer, they all would have hung in there. That means a lot. Am I completely sold that all will go well forever? Well, no. But I’m truly optimistic. And by the way: his staff is one bright group of people. They blew me out of the water.
While it still remains to be seen if Senator Brown uses his platform, voice and voting power to support the things we need him to, I will say this: He listened. And he truly felt bad about how our first meeting went and did all he could to make that history.
And now it is. I’m not sure how he felt about me. I can talk pretty fast and I’m usually pretty determined about getting in all the points I plan on getting in. His style might be a little more laid back than mine. I tried to be careful about that, and adapt. Hopefully I was respectful in my approach.
So, when we were done, I said, ‘Let’s take a picture – and this time it’s me asking.”We all posed and laughed a bit. And the next morning, he posted something about me and my family on his facebook.
I’d call that coming full circle.
You know, I heard someone on a news station say something about some people “questioning my tactics.” But really, what I did was use the communications tools we have today, reach out to our diabetes constituent base, and try to make something right. Senator Brown is fine about it; his staff is fine about it; I’m fine about it. And now, I hope, we have the early roots of what could go on to be a positive, beneficial and maybe some day even powerful partnership with Senator Brown’s office and the diabetes community.
Let’s see where this goes.
Okay since I always seem to be asking of you, dear reader: I have another request. If you are on facebook please go to Senator Brown’s facebook page and either “like” or comment on his post about our meeting. Let him know that so many of us are thankful. If you are not on facebook, please drop a quick email by simply clicking HERE . I do appreciate it.
Thank you. We are an amazing community. How we turned this into a positive is absolute proof of that.